Is The Patient/Doctor Dynamic Better?

Over the past 50 years, the patient-doctor dynamic has changed radically. Historically, this relationship was highly paternalistic. Doctors would inquire about symptoms, assess the patient’s health, diagnose conditions, and suggest treatments.  The conversation was one sided.    Before the 1970s, it was unlikely that a doctor would even get a course in communication in medical school.  It was not offered!  Especially in the past 10 years, the Patient/Doctor dynamic began change.

Changes in this dynamic were triggered largely by patients becoming more proactive. With the advent of patient marketing through the internet, social media, and mass media channels, patients are learning more about their health.  Studies show that almost 80% of all patients check online before starting their healthcare journey.  Clearly this information is affecting the patient/doctor dialogue.  This raises the question, “What Effect is Marketing Having on the Patient/Doctor Dynamic?”

Patient Marketing Can Help the Doctor Know What You Need

The idea that the “doctor knows best” can often miss the point. The doctor may know the answer, but not always know the question. Generally, the doctor requires information from the patient to make determinations about their health. Tests and treatment decisions will follow.  Unlike hard sciences such as chemistry or physics, medicine is an applied science.  Doctors rely on patients for input in their decisions. In many cases, patients do not provide sufficient input, such as with conditions like erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, sleep disorders, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome.  If patients do not (or will not) provide information to the doctor, treatment could take years.

This is where marketing can benefit the patient/doctor dynamic.  A Harvard study found that 25% of patients exposed to information about a condition approached their doctor and were diagnosed with that condition.  In nearly half of those cases, treatment of the condition was a high priority. Clearly, the marketing was helping to lead to successful outcomes. And in fact, a study by the FDA showed that 73% of doctors believe that patient marketing improves their dialogue with patients.  They believe that when a patient is well informed, this makes their dialogue better.  Patients can ask good questions.

When Patients Approach Doctors About Specific Treatment Options

In other cases, patients are able to learn about medical approaches that can improve the treatment of their condition. For example, marketing for Procrit informed patients about an important treatment for anemia, highlighting how it could alleviate fatigue. As they became aware that Procrit could help them with this problem, they asked their doctors about the medication.  Until that point, Procrit was rarely prescribed.  As patients provided doctors with more information about their issues with fatigue, doctors were able to increase the utilization of the product.  This aided in treatment of this symptom.

A Curve in the Road

Treatment of Peyronie’s disease provides another example. This condition involves the development of fibrous scar tissue inside a man’s penis, resulting in curved and often painful erections. In severe cases, patients are keenly aware of the condition and seek solutions from their doctors. Until 2013, the primary treatment options were surgery or penile implants.  In 2013, Xiaflex, a non-surgical option, was approved by the FDA.

A major comparison point between these approaches is the amount of recovery time required after treatment.  Recovery time for surgical approaches is at least 2 months and can last up to a year. In contrast, with the Xiaflex approach, patients can typically resume normal activities within 1-2 weeks.  Until patients became aware of this approach, doctors nearly always suggested surgery, as it was the method they were most familiar with. It continues to be considered the “gold standard” by most doctors.  And it may be the right choice for patients.  However, armed with information about Xiaflex, patients are able to discuss this option with their doctors.

Crafting Successful Communication Approaches

Some of the most effective communication programs, such as the recent marketing for Vabysmo, are grounded in thorough research. Erin Echter, PhD, Patient Marketing Director at Genentech, honed her vision for excellent patient marketing during her tenure at CPG companies. Over the past seven years, she has applied her expertise to develop robust communication patient marketing programs. She commented that the team “gained inspiration for its recent campaigns through extensive research among patients, caregivers, advocacy groups, and healthcare providers.”

The ad, “Open Up Your World“, emphasizes that Vabysmo is the first FDA-approved treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). By showcasing successful outcomes and positive patient-doctor interactions, this patient marketing program is already showing strong results. We commend Genentech for this exemplary patient marketing initiative that fosters a positive patient-doctor dynamic.  It is certainly improving this dynamic.